Toby Allen recalls the first day of rehearsals for Cabaret as an experience which changed his performing life forever.
The singer, whose image to that time had been part of clean-cut boy band Human Nature, realised he was about to go to places on stage he had not been before, nor ever imagined he would.
I remember the choreographer came up to me and said, -˜Right, this is where you fuck Ange up the arse and then walk across the stage still in her.’
I was so horrified at the time, but by the end of it, we had to drop all of that and just go for it and get right into it.
Then in the song Two Ladies, we did the sex shadow play behind the curtain and the three of us had to let go, so we were grabbing each other’s crotches and tits and we were so blas?bout it all. Sometimes I really grabbed them and they flinched, he laughs.
Human Nature this was not. The slick, ever-smiling image of Allen created by the smooth moves and tight tunes of the boy band foursome were shattered as he stepped forward into his own spotlight as the multi-sexual emcee, with nipple-glitter in place and a leering snarl on his face.
Not only did the experience earn Allen new critical acclaim and the Helpmann Award as Best Actor in a musical, but it also gave him a new confidence which he admits he had been lacking.
It was so liberating to be able to go to those places, says Allen, during a break in rehearsal for his latest stage venture as Kenickie in Grease -“ The Arena Spectacular.
It gave me a boost I had not experienced before. It forced me to come out of myself a bit more and not have any inhibitions.
I used to be quite nervous about performing by myself but, since Cabaret, it has shown me I can venture out and afford to push things a bit. I am at a point now where I am less afraid to try new things, as it is the only thing which keeps your career alive and interesting and keeps people guessing as to what you might do next. I am so open now for whatever may come my way.
It is big wigs and leather jackets that have now come Allen’s way. He stars alongside Craig McLachlan, Neighbours‘ Natalie Bassingthwaighte, John Farnham, Magda Szubanski and Tamsin Carroll.
But it is the favourite tune Greased Lightnin’ which Allen admits was one of the major drawcards to taking on the role.
I was excited about playing Kenickie and I am not sure if I wanted to do anything else in the show. He is the one who gets out there and works hard to make something of himself. He is also the one who gets the car, even if it is basically a means to an end so he can get Rizzo in the back of the car.
The other good thing about the song Greased Lightnin’ is it is the karaoke favourite of the show, so if my voice gives out any night, I know I can say to the audience, -˜Sing it with me,’ and be certain they will know all the words.
While Allen continues to create a distinct profile in musical theatre, he says he has no plans to leave behind the 15 years he has devoted to Human Nature.
He insists the band will continue and a new album is already in the planning, but at the moment, they all have other things on their minds.
We are having a break while I am doing Grease, but we are planning on recording again early next year. We are as tight as ever and really do love what we do.
I love singing with the guys and touring and it is so much fun. That has never changed and it has been like that all along. Until it does, I think we continue plugging away with it.
In recent years, Human Nature has performed alongside Michael and Janet Jackson and Celine Dion, as well as singing the national anthem at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
But it was Mardi Gras weekend 2002 which Toby says will always be a highlight of his career. In the midst of a national tour, Human Nature took to the Mardi Gras stage at 4am for a high camp version of the Wham classic, I’m Your Man, before performing for the Queen the next day at a CHOGM meeting.
That was such a crazy time as we did Newcastle the Friday night, a rehearsal for Mardi Gras Saturday afternoon, a show in Canberra that night before taking off back to Sydney to make it to Mardi Gras.
Then 14 hours later, we were performing for the Queen. It was a pack of queens one night and the real Queen the next. She gave us a polite clap -“ a world away from our experience the night before.
Be it the Queen, queens, a 1920s cabaret club or 1950s leather jackets, Allen seems more ready than ever to dive in and give it a go. It seems the past few years have done plenty to shake him up and finally let him enjoy the spot out front.
I am less afraid now of trying new things, he says, before adding with a laugh, I had my first stage fuck in Cabaret,, but I am getting my first stage kiss with Rizzo in Grease -“ maybe I have had things the wrong way around.
Grease -“ The Arena Spectacular is on at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on Friday 6 May at 8pm, Saturday 7 May at 2pm and 8pm. Bookings at Ticketmaster on 136 100.